The Federal Communications Commission voted Dec. 11 to raise the funding cap for E-Rate, a subsidy program that helps schools and libraries connect to the internet, from $2.4 to $3.9 billion per year.
The funding cap had not budged since 1997.
— The FCC (@FCC) December 11, 2014
Notice that not very institutional-sounding hashtag, #Internet4Schools, the commission used to share the news? It’s a creation of D.C.-based Social Driver.
The digital services shop cofounded by husbands Anthony Shop and Thomas Sanchez orchestrated the Alliance for Excellent Education’s social media campaign.
The group, headed by former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, wasn’t alone in its attempts to persuade regulators to raise the E-Rate budget.
The program, which is funded by the Universal Service Fund through a small tax levied on phone bills (and now slated to increase by about $2 per line), was created in the 1990s.
It was due for an update: in July, the FCC had agreed to phase out funding on “legacy” technologies — including pagers!
As Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and former Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), who both helped pass the original measure through the Telecommunications Act of 1996, put it in a letter to the commission: “the E-Rate program has been frozen at a level designed for the dial-up era.”
Helping public schools connect to WiFi? Sounds like a goal many internet users could get behind. But the cause was missing a rallying cry.
“It’s hard to convey exactly what E-Rate is” in 140 characters, explained Matt Scott, a digital strategist at Social Driver. So his team came up with a couple hashtags to replace the moribund #RaiseTheErateCap: #Internet4Schools (and also #Wifi4Schools). Those phrases, particularly the first one, are “a really broad term that makes a lot of sense to people,” said Scott.
According to Social Driver’s research, the two hashtags garnered 23.2 million impressions on Twitter and Facebook, with Facebook posts initiating a 5 percent engagement rate. The number of interactions tripled before the launch of the eight-week 99in5 campaign.
Phillip Lovell, a vice president for policy and advocacy at the alliance that commissioned the campaign, told Technical.ly DC that the group had never before used social media “strategically” as a lobbying tool. “It most certainly will not be the last,” he wrote in an email.
“It’s one thing for a DC-based advocacy organization to say that students need access to the internet,” Lovell said. “It’s another thing to hear a public outcry demanding it.”